500 Times Around: The I-500 Snowmobile Race
Endurance is the operative word for both racers and fans at this frosty, frothy and gas-fumy gathering of sledheads near the frozen shores of Gitcheegumee.
Mar 4, 2008 Aaron Peterson
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Wait, maybe that's just the hog slow cooking inside a converted fuel oil tank manned by Soo native Don Press. The trackside gourmand cracks open the flat black tank, and a smoky cloud of porcine goodness rolls into the bitter air. Getting ready to feed 40 people today has taken all of Press's attention, so he's not sure what lap the race is on, either.
A serious, stone-cold sober Canadian named Steve grudgingly tells me it's lap 300-something. Even though he's been watching the whole time - about seven hours at this point - he can't be sure because there have been a number of caution flags for accidents and weather conditions. The race has exceeded daylight, and the high-powered lights overhead illuminate only blowing snow. The engine noise has subsided, and announcers tell an oblivious crowd that the race is under a red flag as volunteers plow the track and wait for better conditions.
At 10 a.m., when the race first started, the RV hillside was white with fresh snow; now it's been churned brown underfoot. This morning children slid down the hill in anticipation of the race. Now, a group of adults struggle to climb up to the steaming port-a-potties; one man slips backward, but miraculously maintains an upright Busch Light, to the glee of his comrades. As darkness gathers, fans mill about, some heading for the gate, others returning to the race with plastic sleds restocked with beer.
After a lengthy wait, the loudspeakers crackle to life and the race is called. It's nearly 7 p.m. and only lap 376. An Alaskan riding a Yamaha has won. Only one rider was severely injured. The cluster of fans in front of me doesn't seem to notice, as they lean on one another in a sloppy I-love-you-man hug. A clean-cut guy in a spiffy green Arctic Cat jacket chides the oldest of the group, a bleary-eyed Polaris devotee with icicles in his beard, "Hey buddy, if your beer gets warm, just put it in your mustache."
Aaron Peterson is a writer and photographer based in Chatham, Michigan.
aaronpeterson.netThis article was first published in February 2008.